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                                                                                                                  Bogotá’s TransMilenio
                                                                                                                  BRT system.

No recipe for                                          The decade since the launch of TransMilenio in
                                                       Bogotá has produced BRT projects around the globe,

success                                                mainly in the developing world. Although the main

                                                       should not be copied and will not work in all cases,
                                                       write GERMÁN LLERAS and LILIANA PEREIRA, who

        lthough the concept of BRT, and its
        technology, has been around for more           worked on the TransMilenio project at its inception.
        than 25 years, it was only after the
        success of TransMilenio in Bogotá (10              The four most critical areas or actions leading
years ago) that a new wave of interest started.        up to operations are the infrastructure, operational
   Many of the BRT systems implemented since           design, fare collection and transport demand.
                                                       Other areas that also need critical attention are the
                                                       institutional arrangements and communication to
operational systems (TransMilenio in Bogotá, MIO       promote the system and educate its users.
in Cali, and Megabús in Pereira), with a further six
systems in the planning, construction or design        implementation emerge from one of its greatest
phase. Around the world many other cities have
followed suit: Jakarta, Dar es Salaam, Lagos, Mexico   systems) are rooted in the city fabric, and thus offer

     The Bogotá experience has shown that the          access from the street. However, it is this connection
                                                       to the city that means the BRT needs to work closely
are key to achieving the desired goals within the
desired time frame. It often happens that these last   in addition, the system is exposed to higher visibility,
few months are at the end of a government’s tenure,    and if ill-designed it risks a higher urban impact.
creating an environment in which important steps
are neglected in the rush to start the operations.     Infrastructure
    Starting operations does not always guarantee      One of the reasons BRT systems are attractive
                                                       is because investments in infrastructure are
                                                       comparatively lower than those of other
                                                       alternatives. This perception needs to be examined
reason that the best possible conditions are sought.   in detail, however, to avoid common mistakes that

32      mobilityJuly/September2009
ultimately affect the service provision.
    Corridor design is usually seen as a work
of highway engineering, with the goal of
accommodating exclusive lanes in a limited space.

into consolidated urban areas — and to complete this
goal, other important aspects are often neglected.

to bus corridors using sidewalks, parks and plazas,
overpasses, tunnels, street crossings and bus stops
or stations. Corridor design therefore needs to be
perceived mainly from the pedestrian perspective —
even more importantly when intersections are being
planned. A failure to adopt this perspective could
result in fewer users, as well as road safety problems.
    The drivers of other vehicles, which are
sharing the right of way and crossing at several
intersections, also need also to be considered
in order to reduce accidents and guarantee
operational conditions.
    TransMilenio’s cross-sections are usually copied
as a template. Although many things can be learnt
from these, a closer look into TransMilenio’s
geometric design shows that there is in fact no
template, and that not all interventions have been
successful. Rather many different cross-sections have

requirements and urban constraints.

TransMilenio’s cross-sections are
 usually copied as a template…
  However, a closer look shows
that there is in fact no template,
  and that not all interventions                                                                                    Accommodating dedicated bus

      have been successful.                                                                                            consolidated urban areas.

    Stations are nodes in a network where the
transported goods — in this case, people — are            delay in the provision of this infrastructure will
                                                          result in higher operational costs.
of BRT systems.                                               The main lesson here is that there is no recipe for
    From the buses’ perspective, they are the             success. A thoughtful balance between limited urban
bottleneck and need to be carefully designed in           space, bus priority, and the delivery of safe and
order to reduce dwell times and minimise collisions.      comfortable spaces for pedestrians inside and outside
    From the user’s viewpoint, however, they are the      the system should direct the engineering design.
places where valuable time is spent, so they must
be safe and comfortable. Stations are functional          Operational design
                                                          Operational features have also been regularly copied
need energy, information and water, and they              from TransMilenio, the most common being the use
produce information, money and waste. All these           of articulated buses, the feeder–trunk scheme, and
                                                          the provision of express and local services.
and operation. They can also operate as sources of            These are the direct results of designs associated
revenue, through advertising schemes, for example.        with the need to accommodate more than 45 000
   Another element is the size of BRT corridors and       passengers per hour, per direction, during the peak

of the city and are an opportunity to improve urban       loads that are already high are in the range of 5 000
design and foster changes and renovation.                 to 10 000 passengers per hour, per direction, and can
    In some cases, depots or maintenance areas            be served with smaller buses and regular services.
have been considered secondary, something to be               An impact that should be obvious for transport
                                                          engineers but perhaps not to the general BRT
obvious that this is not a secondary issue, and any       audience is that the use of articulated buses means

                                                                                                    mobilityJuly/September2009          33
                           lower service frequency. The larger the bus size, the       Any system that does choose separated feeder
                           longer the interval between successive buses.           and trunk services must improve the design of the
                               In Bogotá, the decision to separate feeder from     feeder network. This key component lacks the
                           trunk services and impose a transfer on passengers      visibility of the trunk corridors and new buses, but
                           resulted from the need to optimise the articulated      deserves equal, if not greater attention.
                           fleet. It was also related to the topography,               The choice of bus size and technology can be
                           demographics, local infrastructure quality and          decisive when measuring the accessibility of the
                           other specific local conditions. The need to transfer   system. Smaller buses can make the system truly
                           often deters passengers, and if a service can be        accessible in some areas and reduce the impact on
                           provided without the need for such a deterrent, it      infrastructure needs. Repeatedly, feeder service
                           should be considered. The alternative can be called     scores low on customer satisfaction surveys in
                           an open–trunk system, where buses use the local         Colombia, showing a need for research and service
                           street network and then enter the trunk-specialised     improvement.
                           lanes to complete the route. The decision will
                           have implications on the fleet size, service
                           regularity, capital and operational expenses, and          Stations are functional pieces
                           infrastructure requirements.
                                                                                         of infrastructure, not an
Safety and comfort for commuters is
a priority, particularly at stations.
                                                                                       Simple is better. The Bogotá system is not
                                                                                   an easy one, due to the large number of express
                                                                                   services implemented exclusively to increase its
                                                                                   capacity. Express services, when capacity is not an
                                                                                   issue, should be avoided because they tend to create
                                                                                   unnecessary transfers and uneven use of the fleet,
                                                                                   and are not always understsood by the users. For
                                                                                   express services to operate, all stations must have
                                                                                   enough lane space to allow for over passing, thus
                                                                                   imposing a new restriction on the design process.

                                                                                   Fare collection
                                                                                   Trust is the cornerstone of fare collection. As with
                                                                                   other components of BRT systems, fare collection
                                                                                   needs time to mature, but setbacks in this area
                                                                                   may be more difficult to recover than in others. A
                                                                                   lack of trust from an actor, or minor signs of fraud,
                                                                                   represent major hurdles for the success of a BRT
                                                                                   project. Fare collection must therefore be one of the
                                                                                   areas of chief attention during the phases leading to
                                                                                   the project start.
                                                                                        This is particularly important given the slow
                                                                                   start of many fare collection systems. The chosen
                                                                                   technology may be demonstrated, but that is not
                                                                                   enough assurance that turnstiles, card readers,
                                                                                   servers, network and power connections, and other
                                                                                   features will be installed on time. Some unforeseen
                                                                                   situations, often related to the bureaucracy in import
                                                                                   processes, can and have delayed implementation.
                                                                                        The preferred form of payment in BRT systems
                                                                                   is the contactless smart card, storing paid trips or
                                                                                   money. This works in conjunction with card sales
                                                                                   and recharge booths, and ‘free’ or ‘validated’ rides
                                                                                   in feeder buses. This means that the technology
                                                                                   needs a context in which to operate. This context
                                                                                   is both technical and legal in nature, requiring
                                                                                   a detailed study to evaluate and implement a
                                                                                   specific alternative. Some of the typical areas
                                                                                   where conflicts arise are ownership of software
                                                                                   and hardware, initial distribution of cards,
                                                                                   stock of cards required, quality and quantity of
                                                                                   information stored and transmitted, guarantees of
                                                                                   redundant components, investments in security and

34     mobilityJuly/September2009
                                                                                                                   A bus-based system in
                                                                                                                   Canberra, Australia.

performance for components placed in buses and          the government may use subsidies or delay other
stations, and commercial use of cards.                  vital investments.
    New BRT systems must be prepared to start               A second impact is the rise of informal or ‘illegal’         Germán Lleras is a
operation even without the full fare collection         transport services emerging in those areas where           Colombian Civil Engineer
scheme in place. This has been the case in many         neither the new service nor the one being replaced            with a Masters in City
                                                        are operational.                                               Planning and Science
for operations using the currency (coins and notes),        It is essential to use demand forecasting as a                of Transportation.
tokens, or even printed paper should be considered.     tool to understand patronage as a policy goal rather               He worked during
                                                        than as a market expectation. Demand forecasting                    the inception of
Transport demand                                        needs to look at sensitivity (ie, what problems or             TransMilenio, during
Patronage of transport systems is at the heart of the   changes are potential riders most sensitive to when          the structuring process
relationship between the public and the provision of    considering a new transport mode) as well as a
service. If the systems are not regularly used, both    detailed risk analysis.                                     is an associate at Steer
                                                                                                                   Davies Gleave and works
    Notwithstanding the developments in demand
forecasting techniques, it is always the case            The main lesson is that there is                              advising several BRT
that passenger demand estimates are based on                                                                       projects mainly in Latin-
assumptions about the behaviour of passengers and
                                                             no recipe for success.                                    American countries.

                                                            Part of this process is to understand that the              Liliana Pereira is a
to ramp-up phenomena (the gap between product           demand targets can be reached only if the new              Colombian civil engineer
development and its expected demand target).            system is reliable and improves the existing service.           with postgraduate
    In this regard it is not only important to have a   Having a new system does not always mean having a
                                                        better one, and demand for urban public transport is            economical project
target or operational thresholds, but also to           not a captive demand.                                           evaluation. She has
understand how quickly the system will evolve to            The ten years that followed the start of                   worked in transport
achieve those levels of patronage.                      TransMilenio in Bogotá produced a set of BRT                planning for more than
    In Colombian cities, delays in the phase-out                                                                    10 years, four of which
                                                        developing world, allowing this transit alternative            were in the planning
Firstly, lower patronage in the new system results      to mature. Although the main features are clearly
in revenues below expected targets, and when this                                                                         She is now Senior
occurs, both private and public stakeholders suffer     should not be copied and will not work in all cases.            Consultant at Steer
the consequences.                                           Previous research and consulting efforts have          Davies Gleave in Bogotá,
    Private actors may default some of their            focused on the planning stages. However, many                   and advises on BRT
                                                        cities that had completed that stage are still dealing        projects in Colombia,
maintain the committed service. At the same time        with the challenges of implementation.              W             Chile and Mexico.

                                                                                                   mobilityJuly/September2009           35

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